St. Louis Rams (3-5)
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher
The best and worst teams in the NFC West meet Sunday, when the St. Louis Rams face the San Francisco 49ers. For teams that face each other twice a year, this meeting will feel a little different, as time around the Rams have a healthy Sam Bradford at quarterback, and look nothing like the team that won only two games in 2011. The contrast in talent between the teams can’t be ignored, though, and with the game in Candlestick, the Rams are going to be hard pressed to win the game. If unable to pull off the upset, St. Louis will do a lot for their future if they can at least keep it close.
When the Rams Have the Ball: Advantage 49ers
Sam Bradford is playing pretty well. His has limited options around him, but has still managed to surpass the 300 yard mark twice this year, and his lowest single game for passing yards in a loss this year (152) was against the Chicago Bears, who can make any quarterback look overmatched. Not helping out the young quarterback is Stephen Jackson, who appears to be slowing down at the age of 29, which is often the case for a back who has been forced to carry the load offensively for so many games. The player who has been the key to stopping the Rams has yet to crack 100 yards this season, and hasn’t even lead the team in rushing every game, something that would have been unheard of in the past.
With no support from their star back, the entire offense has struggled. They are not the worst in the league in any area, but are in the middle or towards the back of the pack in every major category. But they are still a team to be feared as they have been able to sweep the NFC West thus far in 2012, and they have talent at the quarterback and running back positions. The pressure will ultimately be on Bradford, as the tough, physical running style that Stephen Jackson will bring to the table does not match up well against the even more physical and athletic linebackers of San Francisco. If Bradford does not have a career day, then the Rams will have issues moving the ball, and he is going against the 2nd ranked pass defense in the league.
When the 49ers Have the Ball: Advantage 49ers
The key to the 49ers is balance. What the Rams must do is stop the San Francisco rushing attack and make them a pass-happy team. This task is far easier said then done, but in James Laurinaitis, the Rams have a player who is becoming one of the top linebackers in the game. To put his season in perspective, he has 74 tackles, which is more then both Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, and Laurinaitis has recorded double digit tackles twice this year. He will have to read the various blocking schemes used by San Francisco to first locate the ball carrier, but he will be up to the task. The Rams are allowing just over 100 yards on the ground, so if they can keep San Francisco around that number they should be in good shape, but will need to do so against a team that statistically, is second to none in the league.
The Rams pass defense is playing pretty well, despite being ranked 17th against the pass. They have in Cortland Finnegan a ball hawk who already has three interceptions this year, and the secondary has held up well when considering their opponents. They have had to face the Lions, Packers and Patriots, so its understandable that they would suffer some lumps in this area and not be at the top of the league. The task in front of them is the question mark that is the 49ers passing game. Regardless of which passing game shows up, the St. Louis secondary will have their hands full with the multiple receivers that San Francisco will throw at them.
The Rams across the board simply do not match up well with the NFC West leading 49ers, so they will need a lot of breaks to go their way or could easily find themselves on the wrong end of a blowout for the second consecutive week. This game is of major importance to the St. Louis morale. After starting the season 3-2 they have dropped three straight and the most recent two were not even close. The Rams were outscored a combined 75-27 against the Patriots and Packers, which is not a huge surprise and it means that they are not playoff contenders. St. Louis’ ship to the playoffs has already sailed for this season, but they need a win, or in this case, at least a moral victory to keep the confidence of the team. Another blowout and they are back to the cellar of the NFC West with no confidence to finish out the season. If they can keep it close then it will at least let them know that they are close to turning things around and will inspire them, especially for a rematch with San Francisco on their turf later this year.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.